The recession has resulted in a major drop in the number of donations to universities, with those in the US suffering worse than those in the UK, a conference heard this week.
John Glier, chief executive of Grenzebach Glier and Associates, a consultancy that works with 250 universities around the world, said higher education fundraising had been hit hard by the downturn. Addressing delegates at the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) conference in Liverpool, he said: “The economy has created the largest single challenge to fundraisers for years.
“Most institutions are reporting cash totals are down. Gifts and large commitments have significantly declined.”
Mr Glier said that not all sectors were affected: religious organisations remain recession- proof, he said.
However, in US higher education there has been a 15 per cent drop in the number of staff in fundraising, marketing and advancement departments, after redundancies.
The Ivy League universities had reported an 8 per cent downturn in cash receipts, and a decline in new gifts of more than 30 per cent.
Across Grenzebach Glier’s client base as a whole, there has been a 14 per cent drop in cash receipts.
“A quick UK survey of higher education suggests you have not experienced anything close to this,” Mr Glier said.
“Many of the fundraising numbers stayed even, or slightly up. [Donors] here are pruning with a scalpel, not an axe.”
Sir Duncan Rice, vice-chancellor of the University of Aberdeen, said the recession provided a “staggering opportunity for British universities”.
“What we have done, in making the UK more philanthropic, will hold us in good stead,” he said. “Nobody is saying they don’t want to give, they’re saying they might wait to commit next year.”
John Lippincott, president of CASE, said there were “universal lessons” to be learnt from the recession.
“The first is that this too shall pass. The question that remains is, how quickly? In this environment, our greatest armour is creativity.”
He said universities could gather alumni support by providing a “sense of community” during the recession.
And he predicted there would be a lasting positive impact for the universities working hardest on their fundraising operations during the lean times.
“We are likely to see changes. During an upturn, the most aggressive organisations will gain market share,” he said.